The NBA's Biggest What Ifs in the Last Decade

Marcel SmithSenior Analyst IJune 2, 2008

I am going to write about the major trades, free agent signings and moves that were close to happening, but never did happen, or moves that happened but were close to never occurring.

10. What if Carlos Boozer stayed with the Cleveland Cavaliers to team up with LeBron James and make one of the league's best duos?

Boozer started his career as a Cav until he signed a mega $68 million contract with the Utah Jazz, after he verbally agreed to a $41 million offer by the Cavs. If Boozer would have stayed, the Cavaliers would never have signed Larry Hughes.

They would have had a formidable trio of LeBron, Boozer and Ilgauskas in their frontcourt, which would be as good any frontcourt in the league. The Cavs would have been one of the elite teams the last few years, but instead they only have LeBron and a slow and old Ilgauskas, along with poor role-players.

9. What if the Bulls' offer of Tyson Chandler, Luol Deng and the number four pick in the 2006 draft was accepted by Kevin McHale for Kevin Garnett?

With that pick, Minnesota could have drafted LaMarcus Aldridge with the fourth pick, and Brand Roy with the sixth pick (Their own draft pick).

The Timberwolves would have had a fantastic young team, starring Chandler as their center, Aldridge as their power forward, Deng as their small forward and Roy as their shooting guard. That is as good of a young roster in the league, which includes good low post scoring from Aldridge, a great leader and facilitator in Roy, a defensive force in the middle in Chandler, and a solid 20 point scorer in Deng.

8. What if Kobe Bryant decided to allow a trade to the Chicago Bulls to occur by waiving his no-trade clause last summer?

The deal would have probably included Kirk Hinrich, Tyrus Thomas, Andres Nocioni, Thabo Sefolosha, a couple of first round picks and cash. The Bulls would have had a roster of Duhon, Kobe, Deng, Noah and Ben Wallace, which would have been pretty good but nothing special.

Instead, he stayed with the Lakers, who are somehow in the NBA Finals. The Lakers now look like a potential dynasty in the making, and Kobe has a chance with a few more rings to make a case as the greatest player of all time. Oh, how different the NBA would be right now!

7. What if Jay Williams had never gotten seriously hurt in that terrible motorcycle accident in the summer after his rookie season?

Jayson Williams, the stud point guard out of Duke, was the second overall pick in the 2003 Draft (Yao Ming was the #1 pick that year). He played an entire rookie season for the Bulls, in which he averaged around 13 points and 6 assists.

He was as quick and crafty with the ball as Chris Paul, and would have been unstoppable the way fouls are called, since you can't touch perimeter players driving to the basket.

The Bulls would have had a star point guard for the last few years who was as good as Chris Paul. A couple of years later they were forced to waste a lottery pick on another point guard, Kirk Hinrich.

6. What if Coach K would have accepted the mega offer by the Los Angeles Lakers the year after Shaq was traded? (5 year, $40 million deal)

Coach K, the legendary college basketball coach, was offered a deal that couldn't be rejected. He was given the chance to coach sports' greatest franchise in the Lakers, one of the greatest players of all time in Kobe Bryant and enough money for him to do whatever he ever wanted to do in his life.

Duke would have been a completely different school, as they probably wouldn't be close to the level of Coach K's consistency and greatness. The Lakers, on the other hand, would have probably been a better team in the 2004-2005 season as he would have done better than the eventual Laker coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

Phil Jackson, however, the game's greatest coach of all time, probably would still be retired, as Coach K would still be coaching in the fourth year of his contract.

5. What if the Detroit Pistons selected Chris Bosh in the 2003 draft instead of flop Darko Milicic?

The Pistons somehow ended up with the number two pick in the legendary draft that included LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Chris Kaman, David West, Josh Howard, and Leandro Barbosa.

They used it to pick unknown big man Milicic, instead of a more sure pick such as Bosh, who was extremely good at Georgia Tech in only his freshman year. Bosh would have been a good bench player for the Pistons in his first 2-3 seasons, but after Ben Wallace left he would've filled the void and given Detroit an even better starting five than before.

The lineup would have included Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and Chris Bosh. That is as good of a lineup as any in the last decade, as they have a great backcourt, great team defense and extremely good low post scoring with Wallace and Bosh. They probably would have won another championship and possibly even more.

4. What if Tim Duncan signed with the Orlando Magic to team up with fellow All Star forward Grant Hill in 2000?

Duncan, the greatest power forward of all time, was extremely close to signing with the Magic, as he thought a duo between him and Hill would be devastating, and that they would be a championship contender for a long time. However, he decided to stay loyal to the Spurs and ended up getting rewarded by winning three more rings to cement him as one of the 20 greatest players play the game.

Hill, who instead was teamed up with Tracy McGrady, had as injured of a stint with one team as anyone in any sport. Duncan would have been stuck with a below average supporting cast and probably would have ended his career with one ring, and wouldn't be thought of as the way we think of him today.

3. What if the Atlanta Hawks drafted either Deron Williams or Chris Paul with the third pick in the 2005 draft?

In the 2005 draft, the Atlanta Hawks had a top pick in a solid draft. The draft included two great point guards in Williams and Paul, and that was the one position they really were desperate for some help in. Instead, they picked Marvin Williams, who was a risky pick considering he played only one year in college and played limited minutes.

Now, looking back, the Hawks made a terrible decision, as they still haven't solved their need at point guard. This year, at the trade deadline, they traded for veteran guard Mike Bibby, but he isn't the player he once was and it looks like it wasn't that great of a trade.

Now, if the Hawks would have drafted Williams/Paul, they would have had a lineup including Williams/Paul, All Star Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Harrington and Zaza Pachulia with Josh Childress coming off the bench. They would have been a much better team in the '05-'06 season, and probably would have made the playoffs either that year or definitely the next year.

2. What if the Boston Celtics won the lottery, and drafted Greg Oden with the first pick in the 2007 draft?

The Celtics would have drafted Oden to make a frontcourt of Oden, Al Jefferson and Paul Pierce. They also would have had Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Tony Allen, Sebastian Telfair, Rando, Gerald Greene and Kendrick Perkins. That would have been a pretty good roster, but with Oden getting hurt, they would have been doomed this season, and at the top of the lottery again.

Instead, they didn't win the lottery and ended up trading the fith pick for Ray Allen. After that trade, Kevin Garnett was interested in going to Boston, and eventually a deal was made that trade KG to the Celtics for a package of several players, most notably young big man Al Jefferson. The Celtics were rejuvenated by the deals and had a epic season by winning 66 games and making it to the Finals.

1. B) What if the Los Angeles Lakers traded Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum to the Pacers for Jermaine O'Neal this past summer?

In my opinion, this is one of the greatest non-trades of all time, as the Pacers insisted that they receive both Bynum and Odom for the oft-injured All Star O'Neal. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was being pressured by their franchise player Kobe Bryant to make a big deal, and he explored the idea of acquiring O'Neal.

When healthy, Jermaine is one of the top 20 players in the league. Thankfully for all Lakers fans, he trusted that Bynum would develop and grow and was confident that Odom would have a great season despite all of his inconsistencies and injury problems. 

If the trade had gone through, the Lakers would not have been close to the team they currently have. They would have had a roster of Fisher, Kobe, Walton, O'Neal and Kwame Brown in their starting lineup along with Farmar, Sasha, Ariza, Turiaf, Radmonavic and Mihm off the bench.

When healthy, that is a very solid team, but O'Neal is extremely injury prone and is already looking like he has broken down from all of his various injuries and attitude problems. 

The Lakers would have never stole Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies, and would have never had the luxury of developing Bynum, who is on his way towards greatness and becoming a dominant big man on both sides of the court. However, the Lakers were smart and lucky and now find themselves in the finals against their arch rivals Celtics.

1. A) What if Kobe Bryant signed with either the Chicago Bulls or the Clippers in the 2004 summer?

Let me remind you of the scenario for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. The past season, the Lakers had Kobe and Shaq, but also had future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Yet they were embarrassed in the Finals against the underdog and scrappy Pistons.

Phil Jackson decided to take a year off, and the Lakers decided to trade Shaq, because he wanted a $30 million a year extension, to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a future number one pick. Kobe Bryant, their young superstar, was an unrestricted free agent and had narrowed down his choices to the Lakers, the Clippers and the Bulls.

If Kobe had signed with the Bulls, he would have been the superstar and leader of a young and extremely talented Chicago team who had Tyson Chandler, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Eddy Curry and Andres Nocioni.

That would have been a very good spot for Kobe, as the lineup would have been Hinrich at point, Kobe as the shooting guard, Deng at the three, Chandler at the four, and Curry in the middle, with instant offense Gordon coming off the bench along with Nocioni and backup guard Chris Duhon. They would have been a championship contender for several years, especially in the Eastern Conference.

If Kobe had signed with the Clippers, he would have entered a good solid team who were one star away from being a championship contender. They had Chris Kaman in the middle with All Star Elton Brand at the four, Corey Maggette at the small forward spot, Kobe at the two and Marko Jaric/Shaun Livingston at the point.

Off the bench would have been Bobby Simmons, Chris Wilcox, and Quinton Ross. Kobe and Brand would have been as good as any duo, and the trio of Kobe, Brand and Maggette would have been extremely dangerous.

Now, imagine the state of the Lakers at the time. Just a couple of months prior, they were in the Finals for the fourth time in the last five seasons, and were heavily favored to win. At the time they had the two best players in the league in Kobe and Shaq, along with the greatest coach of all time in Phil Jackson.

But in the span of a couple of months, they lost Phil to retirement, and traded Shaq. Now, there was a possibility of losing Kobe as well. This would have been one of the biggest falls from grace for one franchise in such a short span of time in the history of all of sports. Fortunately, for them, Kobe resigned with them and now four years later they are back in the Finals and a potential dynasty may be beginning.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.